What to Know About Russell Terriers

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on May 12, 2022
6 min read

The Russell Terrier looks small — but don’t let that deceive you. What this dog lacks in size, it easily makes up for in personality. The Russell Terrier is fearless, bold, and steadfast and easily holds its own against dogs much larger in size. If you’re looking for an agile and energetic working dog that can double up as a best mate and wing person, the Russell Terrier breed is right up your alley. Here’s what you need to know about this intelligent, lively, and eager-beaver dog breed.

  • Personality. The Russell Terrier personality is known for liveliness, friendliness, and a seemingly endless supply of energy. The dogs were originally bred for hunting foxes. Their hunting instinct, together with their intelligence, makes this breed great at sports and any type of hunting event. You can also find them working as therapy or service dogs.
  • Physical traits. Russell Terriers have small, rectangular-shaped bodies, dark and expressive eyes, and mobile V-shaped ears. You usually find them having three types of coats — smooth, broken, and rough — but the color is mostly white in all cases. The markings on the coats can be seen in tan, brown, black, and cream colors. Sometimes, you can also see tricolor markings.
  • Russell Terrier size. The average Russell Terrier can grow to between 10 and 12 inches in height and weigh anywhere from 9 to 15 pounds. The average Russell Terrier life span is 12 to 14 years.
  • Grooming. Regular grooming can help keep your Russell Terrier looking and feeling great. You can clean its short, smooth coat using a soft brush or a hound glove once a week. Rough and broken coats can be maintained by brushing them out once a week using a regular dog brush or comb.
  • Feeding. Make sure you're feeding your dog high-quality and nutritious meals. You can use packaged dog food that's commercially available. But you can also prepare meals at home as long as a veterinary nutritionist has approved the recipe. Without careful guidance, you may find it challenging to create a complete and balanced diet for your dog.

Also, make sure the food you provide is right for their age, whether that's puppy, adult, or senior dog food. Avoid giving your dog human food, as that can be harmful to their health. Make sure your Russell Terrier has clean water available to drink at all times.

  • Training and exercise. Dogs need exercise to stay healthy and keep their minds engaged. The amount of exercise needed can vary depending on the dog's breed, age, gender, and how healthy they are. Russell Terriers have a lot of energy, so they're great for families that prioritize physical activity. Make sure they have regular exercise and playtime — otherwise, they can get bored. 

The Russell Terrier temperament is known for intelligence and a great appreciation for humor and fun. So you want to vary your training sessions and keep your dogs entertained throughout. Involve problem-solving games to help engage their active minds. Socialize your terriers early so they learn to moderate their strong hunting instincts around people. 

  • Dental careDental diseases can be very common in dogs, so brush your dog's teeth daily. Follow our video guide here that shows you how to do this. Start cleaning your dog's teeth from the time they're a puppy so they get used to it. Always use dog toothpaste and not a human one.

You can also use dental chews and toys that help to reduce plaque formation on your dogs' teeth. Plaque is a sticky film containing bacteria that can build around your dog's teeth within a few hours of eating. Without cleaning, it can continue to harden, forming tartar, which eventually leads to gum disease.

  • Ear cleaning and nail trimming. Ask your vet for recommendations on how often to clear your Russell Terrier’s ears. Trim their nails every month. 
  • Flea, heartworm, and tick management. Your vet can recommend the best flea and tick prevention products for your Russell Terrier. It's recommended to administer medication all year long for a type of deadly parasite called heartworm. Check your dog for ticks regularly and remove them as early as you can to prevent infection. Look for fleas and ticks behind your dog's ears, under their feet, around their ears and eyes, near their anus, and under their tail. But bear in mind that they can also show up anywhere else on your dog’s body.  
  • Vaccinations. Your vet can advise you on the right vaccination schedule for your dog. Make sure to follow your vet’s recommendations to keep your dog in the best of health. 

You also want to take your dog to the vet for annual checkups. Your vet will be able to pick up on health issues early on and provide effective treatment.

The Russell Terrier breed can be prone to general health conditions that affect most dogs. There are also Russell Terrier health issues that are more common to this specific breed. 

  • Patellar luxation. Patellar luxation can be partly genetic. The condition is often seen in small dogs, but it is being seen more and more in large dogs as well. In patellar luxation, the patella, a small bone in the knee, doesn’t line up correctly. Your vet may be able to detect this early on if you go for regular checkups. The symptoms can vary depending on how severe the condition is. In the early stages, you may find your dog limping a few steps. More severe cases of patellar luxation may need surgery.
  • Eye problems. You’ll want to watch out for both glaucoma and primary lens luxation (PLL), a hereditary condition. Glaucoma is a painful medical condition where a fluid called the aqueous humor in the eyes doesn’t drain properly. This can increase the amount of pressure inside the eyes, which can lead to blindness. In PLL, the tissues holding the lens of the eye in place start to grow weaker. Sometimes this condition can be treated with medication or surgery. Your vet will recommend the right treatment after examining your dog and checking its medical history. 
  • Deafness. Russell Terriers could be prone to deafness if a parent had deafness. They can also be prone to deafness because of their white coat. Research shows a link between deafness and the pigmentation gene that causes the white color of the coat.
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease. This is a type of hereditary condition seen in small dog breeds where the ball of the hip joint grows weaker. It's mostly seen in young dogs, so your vet may prefer surgical removal and replacement. It’s rare to have complications in this type of surgery, and your dog can be up and running within months once the tissues have healed.

Russell Terriers were bred to be hunting dogs. So the Russell Terrier temperament can have some qualities that can be a challenge for dog owners, especially if you’re a first-time dog owner. Their hunting instincts make them want to dig, chase smells, and bark a lot.

This dog breed is best suited for dog parents who can stick it out for the long term with a lot of patience and consistent training. For the same reason, they’re also ideal for a family with older children. But in return for building that strong foundation, you’ll have a lifetime companion that’s loyal, devoted, and always up for a challenge.

The Russell Terrier takes its name from a breed of dogs developed by Rev. John “Jack” Russell during the 19th century. Russell was an English vicar who enjoyed fox hunting and dog breeding in equal measure, earning the name "the sporting parson." The Russell Terrier was the result of his efforts to create a strain that had the ideal physicality and temperament for fox hunting. 

Over time, Russell’s terriers became popular among fox hunters for their prized hunting skills and their spirit of sportsmanship. With their small, powerful, and compact bodies, they were able to ferret out foxes from their hiding places and lock them in place without harming a single hair on their bodies. Any kind of physical harm to the target of the hunt was seen as a display of poor sportsmanship.

While England is the official place of origin of the Russell Terrier, Australia is where this breed really took off and developed further. Different types of terriers can exist depending on the country and the recognizing association. The American Kennel Club recognizes two different breeds of Russell Terriers — the Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier. 

Some Russell Terrier enthusiasts recognize the Jack Russell Terrier as a distinct breed to be preserved as a working dog. It excels in many of the skills needed to be a performance breed, whether it be earthwork, rallying, or tracking. They see the Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier as being derived from the original Jack Russell Terrier.